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BMX Bandits Forever and Ever by Duglas Stewart

We’d like to say a huge thank you to Duglas for taking the time out to write another guest blog for us. In this piece, Duglas takes us in detail through some of the key tracks and influences on the long-awaited new BMX Bandits album, BMX Bandits Forever And Ever, and also casts some light on the circumstances that led to the recording. We feel very lucky to be able to bring it to you.

And there’s more! BMX Bandits have also very generously contributed a fantastic bumper prize pack for one lucky winner. To find out what’s up for grabs, and to enter the draw, check out our Facebook page.

BMX Bandits Forever will be released on Elefant Records on May 19th 2017 on vinyl, c.d. and digital formats.  There will be a special album launch concert at St. Luke’s in Glasgow on May 27th. And now, here’s Duglas:

BMX Bandits Forever is a very positive title, upbeat sounding and triumphant. But this album was made during the darkest and most difficult times I’ve experienced and the songs on it are a document of these times, and about my personal internal battle for survival. That may sound melodramatic but I honestly didn’t think I’d still be here but I am still here, phew. I currently feel a bit like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. I’ve been through the craziest and most destructive storm in my life and although I’m not home yet I’m trying my best to stay on the right road. Hopefully I’ll get there in the end.

Photo by Chloe Philip

BMX Bandits Forever is an album about loss and mortality, about battling dark forces but there’s light and beauty in there too as it’s also, not surprisingly for BMX Bandits, an album about love. For me the title isn’t so much triumphant as it is defiant, it’s me saying a big “FUCK YOU” in the face of all of those dark forces and shitty people that conspire to defeat us. It’s also a sacred promise from me to the things I believe in. It’s a sacred promise to love, beauty, kindness, friendship and to BMX Bandits. I hope you like it.

From early on I had always been very defiantly me. I had verbal abuse, criticism and missiles hurled at me but nothing could shake this self belief… or so I thought. I had been surrounded by friends and family who made me feel good about myself and about who I was. They gave me love and encouragement and so I liked being me. By the end of Summer of 2014 something changed. For the first time ever I really felt like I didn’t want to be me any more. I hated how I looked, how I moved, how I spoke. I started to spend hours obsessively repeating words that I had previously mispronounced and getting furious with myself if I slipped up. I would get so upset with myself and become hysterical, striking myself as hard as I could. I later progressed to burning and cutting myself partly as a punishment and partly as a release. I really didn’t want to be Duglas anymore and BMX Bandits felt like such a big part of Duglas that I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to do that again. I remember sitting in BMX Bandits’ bass player Gabriel’s car in a bit of a mess and him saying to me “no matter how far away you go to try to get away from yourself you can’t. If you are a donkey, you can walk thousands of miles but you are never going to come back a horse. So you need to try to accept you are a donkey and try to be the best donkey you can be”. I think that’s good and kind advice but I wasn’t ready to listen. Gabriel was right of course and I was what I was and naturally new songs started to grow in me, but of course I’d say to people “these aren’t BMX Bandits songs”. They didn’t believe me.

I decided to do one new song as BMX Bandits. I recorded it with David Scott called My Girl Midge. I described it at the time as a dancing the tears away song. I had been thinking about Barry White’s You See The Trouble With Me and Love Me, the song that The Bee Gees wrote for Yvonne Elliman and wanted to do something a bit like that but different. I thought that was going to be an end to it but it wasn’t.

My main collaborator on BMX Bandits Forever was Stuart Kidd. Stuart originally joined BMX Bandits in the early two thousands and after around six years went off to have musical adventures with other people like Norman Blake and Euros Childs, The Pearlfishers, Linden, The Wellgreen, Gulp, Dr Cosmo’s Tape Lab and that’s just a few of them. Stu came back into the fold when our regular drummer Jamie Gash couldn’t make a show in Italy due to a prior commitment with Lloyd Cole and the Commotions. When I started talking about having stuff I wanted to record Stu told me he had time and a home studio set up. I knew already what an incredible and generous musical talent he was and so I took him up on his offer of help. Stu is such a great collaborator. He approached every session with such unbridled enthusiasm and always encouraged and supported me in my ideas. He is so ego-less as a musician he always did what was best for the material and made every effort to facilitate my ideas and overall vision for the project as it grew into being more than just a bunch of tracks. He supported me in every way that he could and even came to my rescue when I needed rescuing.

Photo by Iain Mutch

For most of the original tracks we worked on for this album I would send Stu a primitive vocal recording of me performing words and melody, sometimes some counter melody or me impersonating a key instrumental part or rhythm. After that I would maybe send some reference tracks that I thought might help suggest part of the picture we were trying to create with the finished track. One example is for the song Rust I think I sent over mp3s of Serge Gainsbourg’s Requiem Por Un Con, Ennio Morricone’s Una Stanza Vuota and Bruno Nicolai’s Red Queen Kills Seven Times. For me what the melody and music and the sound are saying is more important than what the words are saying. The words are just one part of the picture but the other stuff, if it’s done right, can go deeper and get deep inside you talking to you in a universal language of emotions. We might spend a lot of time before thinking about the tracks before recording but I don’t think we ever spent more than 5 hours on working out the chords, etc and then recording it. We tried to work fast and not over work things so we could try to capture the magic and keep things fresh and full of life.

Gainsbourg’s music in particular the elegant beauty and deep sadness and regret in two of his early seventies songs Sex Shopand Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais were a major influence on how we approached one of the album’s key songs How Not To Care. I listened to these songs endlessly for days over and over again, not sleeping trying to absorb some of their magic for our song. I wanted it to be like a prayer to love. It was me saying with every atom of my being if I am not there please look after this person that I love for me. It felt like the most important and vital thing I’d ever put into a song when we were working on it. The night before recording it I got very little sleep I stayed awake in bed in the dark singing it over and over again. I think we captured what we wanted on the day. It’s among my favourite recordings we’ve ever made.

For the last four BMX Bandits albums in particular my love of European music makers like Morricone, Gainsbourg, Michel Legrand and things I’ve learned from them has probably had more of an influence than any American or British rock music. On this album I think that comes through even more. On Way of the Wolf, a track that has a lot of humour about it but also an underlying fairytale type of darkness, we turned to Giorgio Moroder’s early schlager pop records, Boney M’s Nightflight to Venus and Dents de lait, dents de loup from Serge Gainsbourg with France Gall for our sonic inspiration. This was one of the tracks that Joe Kane joined us for on the album (Stu’s musical partner in Dr Cosmo’s Tape Lab). Joe is a master of manipulating sound and re-contextualising the language of pop. As well as being a superb musical talent Joe brings a great amount of humour to the creative process. The importance of humour in creative work can be too easily dismissed. It brings life and extra depth to any work when used well.

There are also cover versions on the album and they play an important part in fleshing out the story the album tells. One of my favourite concept albums ever is Bobbie Gentry’s Delta Sweete. On that album Gentry weaves covers with her own original material to create a vivid feeling of place, of the setting and although our setting is very different, and it’s more an emotional setting than geographical, it felt like it would add more depth to the final album. One song we decided to cover was That Lonely Feeling, a heartbreaker previously recorded by Scottish Girl Group duo the McKinley’s. It was written by the great British songwriting team Carter and Lewis and I took the liberty of writing an additional verse for it to make it more personal to my story. I’m glad to say we got very generous feedback from John Carter saying he loved our version and gave my additions his blessing.

Another cover on the album is a version of Somewhere from West Side Story. As a result of some of my mental health issues I ended up in hospital on New Years Day 2015. When I was discharged into the care of some very dear and kind friends for the next three months I discovered a file labelled “love” I didn’t recognise on my laptop. Inside it I found an mp3 of me singing Somewhere clearly in an emotional state. I had no memory of recording this. I let Stu hear it and two other friends Bill Wells and Norman Blake and asked them if this was something I should include in a future album or was it too much. All of them felt as long as I felt okay about it and about how vulnerable I sounded on the recording, that I should include it. They felt it was powerful. I think it’s quite a unique recording.

In the Summer of 2016 Chloe and I visited Berlin and we stayed at Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s studio for a few days. While there Anton and I wrote and recorded a track together over a few hours one night. Anton had been talking about false people with hidden agendas and when he started playing a chord progression I started to hear a vocal melody with words pretty much there instantly. It’s the only song that’s not a love song on the album.

Photo by Jim Burns

BMX Bandits Forever also features a track written by the newest member of BMX Bandits Chloe Philip. The song was written late on in the process of making the album. In fact we were at the point of reviewing and compiling what we had and trying to figure out if we had an album or the album that we wanted to have. We were holding back as it felt like there was something missing. I worked on an early demo version of Chloe’s song with Stu but it wasn’t right and so Chloe and Stu had another go at it. When I heard the final Love Me Till My Heart Stops I knew it had to be on the album and it wouldn’t be complete without it.

I’m glad I’m a BMX Bandit. Things have gotten better and I’m grateful for that and I’m proud of our album. I know I’ve said it before but I really mean it so I’m going to say it again. I really hope you enjoy our new album. We put a lot of love into this album and I hope you can feel that when you listen to it. I know life can be difficult sometimes but there’s beauty and love and music and when there is all of those things there is hope. So hold on to your dreams, let the important people in your life know you love them and try to be kind. Thank you.

Duglas T Stewart May 2017